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Five years ago today, I finally summoned the courage to leave an abusive relationship.  I’d been with him for seven years.

“Why don’t they just leave?” I used to say of women who stayed with abusive partners. I thought I was too smart to fall into that trap.

I learned the hard way how wrong I was.

He was older and seemingly wiser.   His charms slowly tarnished over time, until words that I’d once used to describe him – like smart, quick-witted, observant, attentive – became what they really were: sarcastic, harsh, cynical, obsessive.   Throughout our relationship, I felt my identity slowly slip away from me, until I was merely a means to his end.  I was not as important.  He made that clear.  I stopped caring about myself sufficiently and considered only him and his opinions, his feelings, his plans.  I believed that he was the most important person in my world, and that I was secondary.

There were no telltale bruises, marks, or scars.  All of my wounds were on the inside.  Words were his weapon of choice, and he was a master of manipulation.

Even with my two closest friends beseeching me to leave him, I stayed. “I can’t leave him — it would devastate him,” I would say, giving very little consideration to how terribly depressed and unfulfilled I was.

One day — five years ago today — with the help of a friend in whom I’d confided my fear, I did finally leave, knowing that it was necessary to preserve my sanity, but feeling terrified that I was making a mistake.

It was no mistake — it was the wisest choice I’ve ever made in my life.

Since February 26, 2010, I’ve accomplished some pretty awesome things.  It’s a long list, but here are some highlights:

I’ve recorded and released 4 CDs of my music.  I’ve toured all over the US in a Winnebago with my bandmates and closest friends.  I’ve learned to how to ride a motorcycle.  I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon.  I’ve been brought to tears by the wonders of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  I’ve watched the sun set on the Pacific Ocean.  I’ve played jazz on Bourbon Street.  And I fell in love and built an amazing life with my best friend, someone who encourages me everyday to be me.

Every single one of these things was a lifelong dream of mine, and every single one was unthinkable in my old life.

Take it from someone who usually learns things the hard way – don’t ever let anyone tell you that your dreams aren’t worth following or that you are selfish for even wanting to do so.  Such sentiment is a poison.  Those admonitions still occasionally haunt me, and yet I wake up every morning feeling grateful for another opportunity to continue living life in full pursuit of such dreams.

Life is beautiful and tragic and, most strikingly of all, it’s far too short.  Get out there and live your life! — because when you do, you smile, and then everyone around you will start smiling too.